Does President Obama Still Owe The Black Community?
That’s the larger question Ta-Nehisi Coates asks at The Atlantic today involving the President’s commencement speech at Morehouse College and Coates’s answer remains quite a lot. In particular, Coates strongly believes that President Obama is far too harsh on a community that voted for him in record numbers, and who fared the worst in the devastating financial meltdown of 2008.
Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people–and particularly black youth–and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that “there’s no longer room for any excuses”– as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of “all America,” but he also is singularly the scold of “black America.”
This is a theory that we’ve heard before from the President’s critics in the black community. Obama hasn’t done enough for African-American voters or communities, the theory goes, that as the first black President, the President has largely allowed black unemployment to skyrocket, black wealth to evaporate, and the black middle class to vanish in the blink of an eye. The recovery has passed us by, and the President offers only criticism instead of help.
But my counter-argument is that the President doesn’t run the country in a vacuum. Republicans, particularly at the state level, aren’t just critics, they’re actively working against its chances of success. Voter ID laws designed to lower turnout and decrease voting in minority precincts are far more vicious than the President’s calls for more personal responsibility. Republicans killing the American Jobs Act and bills like it hurt the black community far more than the President asking black men to stand up more as fathers. Sequestration going forward will be a lot more damaging to the black community than a speech by the President.
And the word “Republican” simply doesn’t appear in the piece at all. You cannot separate an essay about the President’s legislative policy failures without at least mentioning the GOP. And yes, while the executive branch has policies it can choose to enforce and the President is nowhere near above criticism; by putting singular pressure on President Obama to do better considering the massive hole he had to dig the country out of is a level of heroism that in this political climate is realistically unattainable.
The final paragraph of the piece caught my eye:
I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their vote went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite an effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.
We have, and by and large we’ve gotten it. We’ve gotten a number of real accomplishments from this President. Frankly, considering he was handed two wars and burning house, he’s managed to do a lot. Not just for the black community, but all of us.
And again, if we’re allowed to criticize the President, is he not in turn supposed to hold the American people accountable to do more as well?
Hell, how much do we owe him?
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